Why do we remember all the details of every urban legend we hear, but can’t remember the last PowerPoint presentation we saw?
That’s the question that brothers Chip and Dan Heath tackle in their outstanding book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Die and Others Thrive. The book answers the questions “What causes us to remember some things and not others? What makes something ‘stick’?”
Surprisingly (or perhaps not so surprisingly), for an idea to stick, the how matters a lot more than the what. After all, how many amazing stories have you shared on Facebook, only to realize later that they were hoaxes? Or, on the flip side, how many terrific educational ideas have you heard at conferences, only to have forgotten them even before you implemented them?
In other words, just because is an idea is good, it doesn’t mean that we will remember it. As we all know, bad ideas can be just as “sticky” as good ones, and far too many good ideas have been lost because they weren’t presented well.
So for those of us who care about Judaism and the Jewish future, then, we can’t just focus on the next big idea, or create more content, or believe that “if we build it, they will come.” Instead, if we want Judaism to “stick” for our students, we need to be intentional about how we do it.
And what we need is Velcro.
Why? Because, as the Heath brothers explain, memory works like Velcro. Velcro is incredibly strong and durable. But for Velcro to work, we need two different sides to it — the soft side and the side with the hooks. And as they explain,
If you look at the two sides of Velcro material, you’ll see that one is covered with thousands of tiny hooks and the other is covered with thousands of tiny loops. When you press the sides together, a huge number of hooks get snagged inside the loops, and that’s what causes Velcro to seal.
Your brain hosts a truly staggering number of loops. The more hooks an idea has, the better it will cling to memory. Your childhood home has a gazillion hooks in your brain. A new credit card number has one, if it’s lucky.
Great teachers have a knack for multiplying the hooks in a particular idea. (110-111)
Too often, Judaism is simply “the soft side” of the Velcro, and we ignore just how important the “hooks” are. It simply slides down, with any real connection. We try to teach Torah, or prayer, or Jewish identity, and we wonder why all the information we teach doesn’t register for our students. The reason is not that what we are teaching is bad — it’s that very often, what we are teaching doesn’t have anything for our students to hook onto.
So to ensure a vibrant Jewish community for our future, it’s not Judaism per se that we should focus on. Instead, we need to look at how Judaism can “hook” onto the questions people are already thinking about — how do I find meaning? How should I act in this situation? What can I do to help feel more fulfilled?
In other words, for the future of Judaism, our most important task is not to make people more Jews, or to make people more Jewish. Instead, it’s to figure out what the “hooks” truly are for our students.
Because if we do that, if we view Judaism as Velcro, then Judaism and the Jewish community will stick around for many more generations to come.
(This post was adapted from a blogpost that had been written for The Jewish Futures Conference)